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NY Theater Reviews

Laurie Metcalf and Zoe Perry/ Ph: Joan Marcus

TEETERING ON THE BRINK

By SANDY MACDONALD

Laurie Metcalf's tour de force performance compensates for an overly contrived plot.

If you emerge from The Other Place feeling somewhat manipulated  – Sharr White’s script abounds in O’Henryesque twists, some rather mawkish – you probably won’t mind, thanks to Laurie Metcalf’s electrifying turn as Juliana Smithton, a superficially sharp drug researcher who falls to pieces at the podium while touting (oh irony!) a miracle cure for dementia. The psychiatric term for the kind of episode that Juliana endures is decompensation, and it’s apt. Once she's starts hallucinating a “girl in a yellow bikini” amid a sea of suits, her high-powered career is effectively over.

Juliana may or may not have a marriage to cling to. During intake sessions with a neurologist (played by Metcalf’s own daughter, Zoe Perry, who competently handles a trio of roles), Juliana insists that she is divorced, having tired of the fact that her oncologist husband “can’t keep other women’s skirts free of his dick.” And yet here he is (in the person of Daniel Stern originally; Bill Pullman has since taken over the role), gently trying to shepherd her toward appropriate treatment.

Parts of Juliana’s brain are shutting down. “Oh my God, am I having a thingy?” she panics, at a loss for a more apt word. Where she’ll head next is the wild card, hinted at by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce’s effective set design, an assemblage of weathered Nevelsonian window frames suggesting the permeability of past and present.

Yes, Juliana has a recent history of emotional trauma, in addition to the organic damage currently affecting her reason. Although these twin threads are ultimately tied up rather too neatly, you’ll still be left breathless by the sheer intensity of Metcalf’s portrayal. She gives us a woman not just on the verge of a nervous breakdown but thrashing desperately on the rocks below.